CLIENT STYLE: PIERRE D’AVOINE & COLETTE SHEDDICK LECTURE AT THE AA Review

by Katerina Zacharopoulou, MA History & Critical Thinking student

 

25 January 2017
AA Lecture Hall, London

 

Most might agree that architecture is a service as well as an art. A service usually implies a user, or a client. However, this aspect is frequently downplayed in the creation and analysis of architectural projects; with the client being treated as just an uninvolved and perhaps even ignorant recipient of the work.

 

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Bavinger House, Bruce Goff. Bruce Goff was an inspiration for the lecture, not only for the playful title but also for his awareness of the client.

This is what Pierre D’Avoine and Colette Sheddick ventured to remind us with their lecture on 21st November, by making the client the central parameter in the presentation of their projects. This attitude is already evident from the lecture’s title, ‘Client Style’, a phrase Bruce Goff used when asked to describe his houses. The two architects, currently practicing and teaching, and having worked together in the past, focused on the essence of what might have been a rather spontaneous comment to revisit the question of authorship in architecture from both the architect’s and the client’s perspective

 

The warehouse flat fronting onto the river Thames was designed by Colette Architecture for a young couple and their newborn baby. Image: David Grandorge

The warehouse flat fronting onto the river Thames was designed by Colette Architecture for a young couple and their newborn baby. Image: David Grandorge

“Client” is a rather general term, potentially referring to a person, a company, or even a state. Although D’Avoine and Sheddick stressed that their empathy with the client does not depend on the type of project, most of their examples were private residences. They recognise that the “bourgeois interior”, despite its negative connotations, is actually the “site of probably the most intense dialogue between client and architect in the modern era”.

 

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Chatfield House, Pierre D’Avoine Architects. The herringbone brickwork pattern, a central element of the building, was designed by the client. 

D’Avoine and Sheddick not only acknowledge but also encourage their customers’ inspirations and aspirations regarding their future dwelling, viewing them as an incentive rather than an obstruction. They try to identify with their clients and translate their wishes, references, and ideas into space. They also attempt to convey their own theoretical inspirations into textual or visual stories, although D’Avoine observed that there is an increasing number of knowledgeable clients who can perfectly keep up with advanced architectural discussions. Therefore, design becomes a two-way learning process, which could even lead to changes in architectural style.

 

Brick partitions and large format panels sit in relation to the existing steel and timber frame, and are covered with lime slurry and painted white. Project by Colette Architecture. Image: Tom Hull

Brick partitions and large format panels sit in relation to the existing steel and timber frame, and are covered with lime slurry and painted white. Project by Colette Architecture. Image: Tom Hull

The two architects also talked about clients offering, besides being offered, freedom. Sheddick expanded on how a trusting and supportive client might only give minimal restrictions or constraints, but without being indifferent, this could then allow for the exploration of unconventional ideas and even major innovations. Breaking with tradition is uncomfortable, and for that bold clients are required.

 

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Invisible House, Pierre D’Avoine Architects. Designed for D’ Avoine’s mother, to him “the perfect but most demanding client”. 

But does the process of creation end when a project is handed over? For D’Avoine and Sheddick, a new phase begins at that point, with the client in charge. Thus the clients’ willingness and effort should extend beyond the design, to the occupation of a building. There may always be a suggestion regarding use of space by the architect, but it is eventually up to the client to accept it or not. But the architects insisted that they are always grateful for the appreciation of their work, however that may be expressed.

 

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White House, Pierre D’ Avoine Architects. The official abstract photographs of this project have nothing to do with the way it’s lived in. 

They also emphasised that the client-architect relationship is not always ideal. There is, on the one hand, an architecture that ignores the needs and sensibilities of the client for the sake of purely formal problems. On the other extreme lie clients who seek architects totally submissive to their demands, ignorant of their other social or aesthetic concerns. This commodification of architecture is to them evident in the changing London skyline.

 

The blue grey carpet runs from the Bedrooms into the Hall, its colour referring back to the river. Project by Colette Architecture. Image: Tom Hull

The blue grey carpet runs from the Bedrooms into the Hall, its colour referring back to the river. Project by Colette Architecture. Image: Tom Hull

The ideal situation is somewhere in-between, in a joint authorship. Both architect and client have a say in the outcome of design and this conflict itself is what enables flexible use or open interpretations of the work, “conscious and subconscious slippages in meaning and communication,” as D’Avoine described them. He discussed two examples well known for their clouded authorship, Hardwick Hall and Casa Malaparte, stressing how the result proved the collaboration successful.

 

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Michiko fashion store, Pierre D’ Avoine Architects. D’ Avoine describes this work, a fashion store responding to the client’s constant changing needs, as an “interesting collaborative work”.

We are once more confronted with the issue of authorship in architecture. The architect is usually seen as the author, and the client as the reader of a project, interpreting it through inhabitation. But D’Avoine and Sheddick showed that a building is a product of a complicated procedure that involves both. However, they do not deprive architects of their authorship rights. They just reinstate those of the clients, towards an “open work”, where it is up to them to fill in the blanks. Nevertheless, making room for the client at the expense of the architect’s ego definitely reveals a promising modesty.

 

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Pierre D’Avoine and Colette Sheddick speaking at the lecture. Photo by Ping Ping Lu. 

For more information:
Pierre D’Avoine Architects
Colette Architecture
Client Style lecture video
History and Critical Thinking (HCT) MA
HCT Microsite